The Montreal Canadiens went toe-to-toe with one of the best NHL teams, but a bench minor in overtime was their undoing.
Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby scored with the man advantage at 3:41 of overtime to lead the Penguins to a 2-1 victory over the Canadiens at the Bell Centre on Saturday.
"That's not the way you want to go down," said Carey Price, who stopped 35-of-37 shots in defeat. "They stepped it up a notch in the third period and made it difficult for me to come up the ice. It was a pretty tight game overall. We played them pretty tough.
"It came down to a penalty and a broken stick."
The Canadiens took a 1-1 tie into the overtime period but were penalized for having too many men on the ice. Playing 4-on-3 hockey, the Penguins were patient— with Crosby, Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin trading a half-dozen passes in the setup to the game-winning goal. To make matters worse for the Habs, Tomas Plekanec was playing without a stick after breaking his lumber earlier that shift.
When the Pens finally shot the puck on net, Crosby made no mistake from the faceoff circle to Price's left, beating the Canadiens netminder with a one-timer, short side. Price had previously denied Crosby on a couple of opportunities, most notably with a flashy glove save in the third period.
"You try to forget those other chances pretty quickly," said Crosby, who earned his 44th point of the year. "(Price) made a good glove save late in the third. And you finally get one through him, and his defenceman bails him out. It's an uphill battle sometimes.
"We were fortunate to get a power play (in overtime). Guys were moving around, and I got a good look there. It was a great pass from Geno (Malkin)."
Montreal tempted fate in the extra frame with its fourth minor penalty of the encounter. Michel Therrien's men were undisciplined in the third, with Tom Gilbert and Alexei Emelin taking back-to-back penalties for interference and hooking, respectively.
The Penguins (25-10-6) came into this one struggling with the man advantage, having gone 1-for-19 in their previous seven games. But after going 0-for-3 against the Habs in regulation time, Pittsburgh finally made the most of its extra skater.
"They have so much skill over there," said Max Pacioretty, who scored Montreal's lone goal in the first period. "You give them too many chances, especially on the power play at the end of the game, you know they're going to capitalize.
"The good thing going for us is that we know what we have to clean up. But at the end of the day those are points we can't get back. It's unfortunate."
The Habs (26-12-3) have now lost two consecutive games after winning nine of their previous 10.
With the game still tied at 1-1, Pacioretty came inches away from giving the Habs the victory late in the third period, but his shot found the side netting instead of the gaping hole with three minutes on the clock.
The Canadiens also had four power-play opportunities of their own in the game, but Montreal couldn't generate any offence with the man advantage. Ineffective dump-ins on the power play were consistently sent back down the ice by Pittsburgh's penalty kill, ranked second in the league.
"Tonight was bad with momentum," said Pacioretty. "The most frustrating part is when you have a game where you do have momentum, you do everything right, and the puck doesn't go in the net. And I feel like we've had a couple of those in the last 10 games or so. That's when you feel like things are against you."
This is the second clash between the Pens and Canadiens in a week. Last Saturday, Montreal scored two early goals and Price added 30 saves en route to a 4-1 road victory. That win temporarily propelled the Habs to the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
In Saturday's rematch, Pacioretty put the Canadiens on the board with a rare first-period goal. The 26-year-old rifled home his team-leading 18th of the season at 18:10 after capitalizing on a Penguins giveaway.
Pacioretty intercepted a sloppy pass by Crosby in his own zone and skated the length of the ice. With defenceman Robert Bortuzzo between him and Marc-Andre Fleury, Pacioretty sent an accurate wrister in the roof of the goal, short side.
The sharp-shooting left-winger has scored four goals in his last four games. Pacioretty is particularly dangerous against the Pens, having now scored nine goals in 20 games versus Pittsburgh.
Montreal forward Christian Thomas, recalled from the Hamilton Bulldogs on Thursday, played on the fourth line with former Bulldogs teammates Sven Andrighetto and Michael Bournival.
Thomas and his linemates had a solid first period bolstered by their relentless forecheck. Bournival drew a penalty midway through the frame, and Thomas took a big slap shot on Fleury a few minutes later.
That young fourth line was caught on the ice when Malkin beat Price to tie the game at 18:28 of the second period. Malkin fired a slap shot from the blue-line and the puck found its way through several bodies for his fifth point in four games. Beau Bennett and Alexei Emelin were blocking Price's view of the shot.
"I thought it went pretty well, besides the shift we got scored against," said Thomas, who played 8:19 in his fourth career NHL game. "We created some offence, we played pretty good defence, and we brought some energy. We had a lot of chances, which was really positive."
Notes: Prior to puck drop, the Canadiens played the French national anthem to honour victims of recent terror attacks in Paris. Price was the only Montreal Canadien selected for the 2015 NHL All-Star Game, which will be played Jan. 25 in Columbus. Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau (upper-body injury) has now missed three straight games. Manny Malhotra was a healthy scratch. Fleury made 27 saves for Pittsburgh. ...After the game Montreal announced that it assigned forward Sven Andrighetto to the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL.